Something slightly different

Leigh, Worcestershire. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013

Leigh, Worcestershire. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013

Armed with little more than a couple of maps, two pairs of socks and a good(-ish) set of walking boots, last Sunday I made a temporary departure from the usual schedule of Bayton-based medievalism to set off on an 8-mile round trip to the village of Leigh near Malvern. There were two main reasons for the journey:

  1. Leigh has several extant medieval sites – some of which are of national significance – which can be associated with its holding by Pershore Abbey.
  2. For early November, the weather was remarkably nice.

Having sufficiently justified it to myself, I set off in the early afternoon on a walk across a lot of muddy fields, a few paved roads and an active train track. Surviving potential flattening I arrived around an hour later at Leigh’s parish church, an imposing sandstone structure dating mostly to the 12th-14th centuries. The church has the peculiar characteristic of retaining its pre-conquest devotion to St Edburga, the product of a close association between its landholder, Pershore Abbey, and Edburga’s cult; shortly after her canonisation in 972 the abbey acquired a number of her relics, stimulating a cult whose accoutrements included a dedicated chapel at Pershore and a 1226 grant to host a fair on her feast day, 15 June.

St Edburga's church, Leigh

St Edburga’s church, Leigh

The church has several extremely interesting exterior features, including an elaborate 14th century ashlar tower and a potentially 15th century timber porch, although its interior is particularly significant for containing a remarkable 12th century relief carving of Christ. However, at the time I visited the lights weren’t on – and I couldn’t find a light switch – so all my photographs look particularly bad; thankfully, a photograph taken for the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture is more than enough to whet the appetite.

One of the more visible internal features, however, was a plaque hanging in the nave listing the rectors of the church and their dates of appointment. The document has evidently been carefully compiled from several sources by earlier parish historians – one of whom, Lisle-Wright, has produced a handy short history of the church.  While the record has inevitable limitations – there are no records of rectors predating 1274, for example, leaving more than a century of the church’s life without local documentation – it nevertheless sheds interesting light on ecclesiastical arrangements in medieval Leigh. Between 1274 and 1556 it records some 38 rectors, representing an average post-holding of 7.5 years; for each quarter-century between 1275 and 1474 there are generally two to four rectors recorded, demonstrating a high degree of fluidity in the holding of ecclesiastical posts. In other words, the rectors of St Edburga’s do not seem to have stayed in their job all that long. The real significance of the changes can be seen most clearly for 1432 and 1504, when the post swapped hands twice in one year. By the early 16th century there is an enormous growth in the number of named rectors.

Number of newly-appointed rectors by quarter-century at St Edburga's, Leigh.

Number of newly-appointed rectors by quarter-century at St Edburga’s, Leigh.

The records provide a strong indication of sudden and localised demographic change, the most likely cause of which would be disease. The most obvious of these is plague, a fate that is likely to have befallen Rector Willelmus de Burthone, who in the ominous year of 1349 was replaced by a new postholder, Walterus de Morton.

After leaving the church I did think to take a visit to the Leigh Court tithe barn, conveniently located right next door. This building, managed by English Heritage, is one of the oldest extant cruck-built barns in England, dated to c.1325 using stylistic features and dendrochronology. The barn would have served as a centre for the storing and threshing of grain cultivated on the monastic granges, and testifies to the scale – both physical and financial – of Pershore Abbey’s agricultural interests during the later Medieval period. Unfortunately however I made an error of timing; the barn is now closed for winter. In any case, at least I got a good view of the exterior; the photo really doesn’t do it any justice.

Leigh Court Tithe Barn

Leigh Court Tithe Barn

At this point it was beginning to get darker, so I made the executive decision to head back, albeit via the footpath past Leigh Castle Green, a small Norman motte that seems to have miraculously escaped later plough damage – although the number of animal burrows surrounding the site suggest that below ground things might not be quite as nice as they seem. While no archaeological research has been conducted that might shed light on the site, a documentary tradition exists relating the motte to the manor of Castleleigh, held by the Pembridge family in the 13th century; nevertheless, as at Leigh church, the documentary record here seems to postdate the physical evidence by at least a century, leaving many questions essentially open. At this point, sunshine rapidly receding, I decided to hop back on the homeward path.

The motte at Leigh Castle Green. Note the large spoil heap at the bottom right, caused by animal burrowing; these surround the site from most directions.

The motte at Leigh Castle Green. Note the large spoil heap at the bottom right, caused by animal burrowing; these surround the site from most directions.

The visit to Leigh is useful in providing some stark contrasts with Bayton. The size and scale of the tithe barn is ample evidence that the Abbots of Pershore had a very profitable holding at Leigh; St Edburga’s lavish 14th century tower speaks volumes about the amount of surplus income in their possession, readily available for new expenditure. The entry for St Edburga’s in Pope Nicholas IV’s 1291/2 taxatio reiterates this key point, listing the church in two portions; that held by Pershore Abbey was valued at £8 6s 8d, rising to £13 6s 8d when both portions are combined.

The 1332/3 lay subsidy entry for Leigh, however, demonstrates that wealth was not only possessed by the church, with a total of £4 5s 10d levied. This conclusion is supported by numismatic evidence, with 40 coin finds recorded by the PAS and EMC in the parish; assuming these represent casual losses, they demonstrate a sizeable amount of circulating monetary wealth – from groats to farthings – with a chronological distribution often paralleling the county average, albeit with proportionately fewer pre-Short Cross and more post-1465 issues.

Coin loss profile for Leigh. Periods are those of Kelleher 2012; Worcester regional mean from Andrews 2013

Coin loss profile for Leigh. Periods are those of Kelleher 2012; Worcestershire mean from Andrews 2013

By contrast a noticably poorer community is evidenced at Bayton, whose parish church, St Bartholomews, was valued at only £4 in the taxatio, and whose 1332/3 lay subsidy levies totalled only £2 3s 6d – by no means a small sum, but nonetheless considerably smaller than Leigh’s contribution. The numismatic evidence for Bayton’s wealth is considerably weaker, as very few coin finds have been discovered or reported, although a single Short Cross halfpenny recorded by the PAS underlines the fact that money did indeed circulate in the parish. In any case, the wealth disparity between Bayton and Leigh seems to have had deep roots. In a previous post we have seen that Bayton’s 1086 valuation was £4; the valuation for the two holdings at Leigh were a remarkable £18 10s.

As such, Leigh serves as a good example of a wealthy medieval holding in Worcestershire; Bayton, by contrast, reveals a noticeably poorer counterpart, emphasising the diversity of even a comparatively small county like Worcestershire during the Middle Ages. As local historians this should warn us away from making sweeping generalisations about ‘medieval life’ – within less than 20 miles people could experience very different standards of living, as true in the past as it is today.


‘A plain structure…improved of late’

The south porch and west tower, St Bartholomew's.

The south porch and west tower, St Bartholomew’s.

…or at least that is how John Noake described Bayton’s parish church, St Bartholomew’s, in his 1868 Guide to Worcestershire. The improvement Noake describes is presumably the church tower, built some time c.1817-19; little less than 100 years later the church underwent a further round of ‘improvements’, when much of the building was remodelled in the decorated style at the hands of noted architects John Oldrid Scott & Son. Yet beneath centuries of such renovation and repair lies the skeleton of a Medieval parish church, first constructed in the 12th century and long at the beating heart of local life.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of making my first visit (pilgrimage?) to St Bartholomew’s, following a brisk morning of bramble clearing at Timberlake with NWAG. While this post isn’t the place for a detailed study of the church – which will have to wait until some other (distant) time – there are nevertheless three features I want to point out, as they frame the Medieval history of Bayton rather nicely.

South door exterior, St Bartholomew's.

South door exterior, St Bartholomew’s.

The first key feature is the exterior of the south door to the nave, now pleasantly tucked behind the 1905 porch. The doorway is a classic example of 12th century architecture, featuring chamfered imposts, a rounded arch decorated with lozenge and chevron motifs and a plain – and heavily eroded – tympanum. According to Pevsner, during the 19th century Noake observed a figured tympanum at the church, with similarities to those at Rock and Chaddesley Corbett; however, as the picture shows, this decoration very clearly no longer exists.

Roughly contemporary to the south door is the second feature I want to highlight, a hefty-looking Norman drum font located at the west end of the nave. Partially damaged by the previous addition of  a locking lid, the font is decorated with two sections of sculpture divided in the middle by a thick plait; the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture, which studied the font in the early 1990s, notes some decorative similarities with those at Rock (Worcs.) and Linley (Salop.). The first comparison is particularly interesting, as it has also been observed for the exterior door; it seems likely that both were works of the 12th century ‘Herefordshire School’ of sculptors.

The font, St Bartholomew's.

The font, St Bartholomew’s.

Looking east towards chancel, St Bartholomew's.

Looking east towards chancel, St Bartholomew’s.

Third and finally, something a little bit more recent – the nave roof, collars and cambered tie-beams, most of which are thought to be of c.15th century date. In general I always find it amazing to see surviving timber structures, and certainly it is quite an achievement that these have survived not only natural and not-so-natural damage, but also several rounds of increasingly vigorous ‘improvement’. In any case they provide a valuable indication of the appearance of the church in the later Middle Ages – and a pretty one to boot.

Bayton in the Domesday Book

As the first proper post on this blog it seems appropriate to begin with that erstwhile starting point of local histories – Domesday Book. The modern parish of Bayton, perched on the Worcestershire side of the hundredal boundary between Stottesdon (Salop.) and Doddingtree (Worcs.), contains two manors recorded in the 1086 Domesday survey – Bayton to the west of the parish and Carton to the east (Fig 1). The relevant entries can be consulted via the Open Domesday here and here – or, for readers who prefer a hard copy, as entries 15,6 and 19,10 in the Phillimore Domesday. The Domesday entries for Bayton offer a detailed glimpse into life during the transition from the late Anglo-Saxon to the Norman periods, and, for our purposes, provide a crucial starting point for the study of the parish in the Middle Ages.

Domesday Manors in Bayton parish. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown Copyright and database right 2013

Fig 1: Domesday Manors in Bayton parish. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown Copyright and database right 2013

Out with the old, in with the new – Lordship in Norman Bayton

The impact of the Norman Conquest is reflected in the Domesday Book by the changing names of pre- and post-conquest landholders. Prior to 1066 the majority of landlords in England had been English, a situation almost wholly reversed by 1086 when only 8% of landowners had English names  – the result of what Dyer aptly describes as ‘the largest transfer of property ever seen in English history[1]. This ‘classic’ Domesday pattern of shifting landlords is clearly visible at the manor of Bayton. Formerly two pre-conquest manors held by Edric and Leofwin, the merged 1086 Bayton manor was held by Ralph de Tosny, a significant Norman landowner with 110 post-conquest holdings across the country. Almost 40% of de Tosny’s Domesday estates were located in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and almost 11% in the Doddingtree hundred, in which he was the largest single landholder – evidently a powerbase of considerable local importance.

While the manor at Bayton followed the classic transition from English to Norman hands, that at Carton did not – albeit for quite unusual reasons. Before the conquest the manor at Carton had been a holding of Richard Scrope, a Norman who was granted land in Herefordshire by Edward the Confessor and by 1066 had amassed some 8 manors in a band across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire; his holding at Richard’s Castle (Herefs.) contains one of the few likely pre-conquest castles in England and Wales[2]. This pre-conquest Norman manor by definition could not have been transferred from English hands in the aftermath of the conquest, and instead descended to Scrope’s son, Osbern, himself a Norman landowner of some significance; before 1066 he held 24 manors, expanding to 111 in 1086.

In any case, the demonstrable absence of post-conquest English lords at Bayton and Carton seems to have extended to lesser landholders too. Both estates were held by sub-tenants – at Bayton, Rainer, and at Carton, Odo. While little is known of these individuals their names are tellingly derived from Old Germanic rather than Old English, suggesting that both were most likely Normans – or at least Frenchmen[3] – themselves.

Populating Norman Bayton: Demographics and social structure

So much for the lords – what about the peasants? The entries for Bayton and Carton record some 20 and 12 households respectively, settlements of medium to small size by national standards. What is true nationally is here also true in local terms; when the 40 Doddingtree estates are ranked by numbers of households, the Bayton estate comes in 14th place and Carton in 25th.

The composition of these households sheds considerable light onto the complex social structures existing in Norman England. Four non-lordly household groups are present at both manors – villagers, smallholders, slaves and riders; conversely, other contemporary groups found in Doddingtree hundred – the freeholders, cottagers and certain specialists – are absent[4].

The household composition of Domesday estates in Bayton, Carton and Doddingtree hundred

Fig 2: The household composition of Domesday estates in Bayton, Carton and Doddingtree hundred

The relative proportions of household types in Bayton and Carton differ noticeably from the notional average for Doddingtree manors, presumably reflecting basic differences in the organisation of estates; that at Carton was evidently dependent on slave labour, while that at Bayton reliant on smallholders (Fig 2).

If certain assumptions are made about the compositions of Domesday households it is possible to turn these figures into population estimates. The most straightforward method is to apply a simple multiplier to household numbers, although this relies on several unspoken assumptions about the definitions of households, their average sizes, and omissions from the survey. A more sophisticated method proposed by Goose and Hinde[5] takes into account these factors and proposes both low and high estimates; using this approach, we can estimate populations of between 77-125 at Bayton and 24-75 at Carton. Evidently these estimates fluctuate quite substantially, but provide a useful approximation of the likely limits between which real population sizes probably fell.

Agriculture and economy in Norman Bayton

Behind these communities lay a relatively sophisticated agricultural economy, on which Domesday sheds much light.

Sustaining the living standards of the lord and his household was the demesne land, the scale of which can be inferred from the number of ploughs in the lord’s possession. At Bayton some three ploughs were in demesne, while at Carton two ploughs were in demense; pulled by teams of eight oxen apiece, such ploughs were each capable of cultivating up to 100 acres per year, giving a potential yearly demesne acreage of 300 acres in Bayton and 200 acres in Carton[6]. The absolute extent of manorial demense might in fact be larger – or indeed, smaller – than these figures suggest, as there is no indication in the relevant entries as to whether there were additional holdings held in fallow each year, or whether tenant ploughs were also employed to work the lord’s fields[7]. If these ploughs were used to maximum capacity, some 24 oxen would be required to farm the demense at Bayton and 16 for that of Carton. Each plough would need to be manned by two people; at Carton this task would have been conducted by slaves, while at Bayton it would presumably have been one of the obligations of the villagers and smallholders.

Records of tenant ploughs can similarly be used to infer the nature and scale of peasant holdings. The 18 peasant households of Bayton held some 12 tenant ploughs, the potential equivalent of 1200 acres of farmland – as much as four times the size of the lord’s demesne. These ploughs required some 96 oxen to pull them; each peasant household might have held 4-5 oxen, joining together when needed to form complete ploughteams. Evidently the two-person teams required to use the ploughs most efficiently could not have been formed if only operated by (presumably male) heads of households, suggesting that women or younger family members played a crucial role in peasant farming. At Carton the four peasant households shared 1 ½ ploughs, the equivalent of 150 acres of farmland; however, Domesday notes that three extra ploughs were possible, potentially suggesting that peasant fields were not exploited to their full potential. Quite what crops were sown on the fields is unclear, although wheat, rye, corn and oats are likely candidates.

Crops needed to be ground into flour, buildings and equipment built and repaired and spiritual needs fulfilled; the evidence for these services – or the lack thereof – can be found in the manorial appurtenances listed in the Domesday entries.  The manor at Bayton possessed a mill, valued at 5s, which would have processed flour for both lord and peasant – albeit for a fee. The site of this mill is unknown, but would presumably have been along one of the tributaries of the River Rea. The manor at Carton included woodland, 0.5 leagues long and 3 furlongs wide, which might have supplied timber for building and grazing land for pigs. Curiously, no woodland is recorded at Bayton, despite abundant toponymic evidence for woodland in the parish[8]; this might suggest that the Domesday manor did not extend as far north or south as the modern parish, but alternatively this woodland might simply have been omitted from the survey records. The services of smiths and priests would have been required to cater for the practical and spiritual needs of the population – neither are recorded at Bayton or Carton, but services may have been enlisted from the smiths and priests of neighbouring Sodington and Alton.

The records of Domesday therefore suggest two small-to-medium sized manors at Bayton and Carton, organised around mostly self-sufficient agriculture but also enmeshed in a wider local economy. This is also suggested by the tax assessments levied on the manors, which for Bayton were levied on 3.5 hides – a medium-sized sum – and 1.25–1.3 hides at Carton – a small sum.

The manorial valuations tell a similar story, totalling £4 for Bayton and 5s for Carton; these are presumably the annual payments rendered to the lord of the manor, although whether they represent peasant rents, total manorial income or net manorial output is unclear. Both manors list at least two values – one value pre-1066, another in 1086, and, in the case of Bayton, another c.1070 – revealing that the differences in manorial size and wealth had been well established by the time of the Domesday survey. They also demonstrate that quite substantial changes in value had taken place in both estates during the post-conquest period. At Bayton the estate value had halved by c.1070, yet expanded to 133.3% of its pre-conquest value by 1086; the manor at Carton was worth only half its pre-conquest value in 1086.

The causes of these changed values are uncertain. The traditional argument that declining values should be associated with the destruction of English estates by Norman knights is unconvincing; Carton, a demonstrably pre-conquest Norman manor, had undergone a marked contraction in value by the time of the Domesday survey, while the early contraction at Bayton had been totally reversed in the same period, as it had been in the neighbouring pre-conquest English manors of Alton and Mamble. Presumably such changes in value were a product of the interplay of several factors – including among others changes in soil conditions, population, the extent of farmed ploughland and structural changes in manorial organisation. Bayton might offer an example of the latter, being the product of two merged pre-conquest manors; the consolidation of both estates might feasibly have been more efficient than when isolated, albeit after a brief period of economic dislocation. In any case, it is impossible to be absolutely certain; the value of the Domesday record must be that it allows us to ask the question at all.

[1] Dyer 2002, p 80.

[2] Stenton 1989, p 562; Remfry 1997

[3] On the distinction see Lewis 1995

[4] Sproat 2013

[5] Goose and Hinde 2007

[6] Dyer 2002, p 92

[7] Moore 2000, p 21

[8] The topic of a future post!


Dyer, C. 2002. Making a living in the Middle Ages. New Haven: Yale University Press

Goose, N., and Hinde, A. 2007. Estimating local population sizes at fixed points in time: Part II – specific sources. Local Population Studies. 78. pp 74-88.

Lewis, C. 1995. The French in England before the Norman Conquest. In C Harper-Bill, ed. Anglo-Norman Studies: XVII Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1994. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. pp 123-144.

Moore, J. 2000. From Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman: North Gloucestershire in Domesday Book. Deerhurst Lecture 1998. Deerhurst: The Friends of Deerhurst Church.

Remfry, P. 1997. Richard’s Castle, 1048 to 1219. Worcester: SCS Publishing.

Sproat, R. 2013. Lands of Ralph de Tosny in Doddingtree Hundred, with particular reference to the manors of: Abberley, Redmarley, and Shelsley, in the Domesday Book of 1086. NWAG Report No. 108:2002.

Stenton, F. 1989. Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Introducing Medieval Bayton…

‘…divers men’s sonnes and servants do often resort and contineue drinking in the said houses day and night, whereupon divers disorders and abuses are offered to the inhabitants of Bayton aforesaid, as in pulling down styles, in carrying away of yertes, in throwing men’s waynes, plowes, and such like things, into pooles, wells, and other bye places…’ – Worcestershire Quarter Sessions, 1612

This is a blog about Bayton, a small parish in northwest Worcestershire on the Shropshire border. More specifically, it is about Bayton in the (high) Middle Ages – roughly speaking, the years from 1066 to 1540 – although with inevitable fuzziness at either end. Drawing on a wide range of material and documentary evidence, the blog hopes to shed new light onto the day-to-day lives of peasants and lords – and everyone inbetween – in a part of the country whose history is so often overlooked.

Bayton in Worcestershire. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013

Bayton in Worcestershire. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013

Why Medieval Bayton? During the Middle Ages the parish was home to no less than four manorial estates, two associated villages, and a parish church, St Bartholomew’s. For centuries people lived, worked and died in and around such places, whose lives and beliefs can be as interesting and important as their modern counterparts. While a concise summary of the Medieval parish is available in the 1924 Victoria County History, the present blog aims to provide more detailed and thematic insights into life (and death) in Bayton in the Middle Ages, drawing on additional – and often new – sources of documentary and landscape history, toponyms and archaeology.

Bayton mapped: OS New Popular Edition 1945-55. © OpenStreetMap contributors

Bayton mapped: OS New Popular Edition 1945-55. © OpenStreetMap contributors

Why a blog? Local history has tended to stay local; the unfortunate side-effect being that the stories uncovered and the lessons learned – no matter how interesting or important – tend to get overlooked by non-local enthusiasts or researchers. The internet provides a welcome opportunity to break down these barriers and engage with similar work elsewhere in Britain – whether in Surrey, South Ayrshire or Sherwood Forest. Any comments or thoughts on my research would be greatly appreciated , as would any contributions, so feel free to get in touch on the comments or via email – .

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the blog!